Thursday, 20 July 2017

LEJoG 2017 - Getting Back on The Horse!

This time next week I will be on a train up to Edinburgh to change to a train to Galashiels, then a bus to Innerleithen before getting on my feet to John o'Groats.

Yes! I'm finishing the job! The little line on this map will get all the way to the top corner of Scotland!

I'm going to be running straight through for 16 days in a row, but given the days are less demanding than in the first 3 weeks this is very approachable and achievable. There are only 2 days over 30 miles, 6 days under 25 miles of which 2 are 20 miles and 1 is 13.5 miles. The elevation is pretty gentle too. I'll camp 2 nights and the rest is in B&Bs/hotels.

16 days of greenery and scenery in your social media feed, in between the crazy of the world. 16 days of mundane, simple, lower levels Maslow's needs griping to distract you from Brexit and Trump!  It's back on! Get the message out there! Get people following and sponsoring! Let's smash my £5K target funds raising for Public Health Collaboration!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

LEJoG 2017 - looking back and forward

If you don't follow me somewhere else on the Internet, the latest is that I had to stop after 21 and a half days due to excruciating pain in my leg, most likely tibialis anterior tendinitis.

I tried to rest for a couple of days to let things heal, after a local GP had a look at it, but even staying off it for 2 days made zero difference to the amount of pain once I'd really got going for the day's distance.  I tried strapping it and bracing it, but it got so painful that I ended up howling with pain and unimaginable amounts of tears and snot streaming down my face for the well over an hour it took me to get down from Minch Moor to Traqair.  At that point I was in the most pain I've ever been in, including when I broke my collarbone towards the final 15km of the bike leg of Ironman 70.3 Galway in 2012. So I decided to get myself to the nearest A&E as I was worried that it was something broken.  Luckily for me there was a health centre in the village a couple of miles away and they helped me get a taxi to Borders General hospital. I left the hospital with a pair of crutches, a letter to my GP, and instructions to stuff my face with Ibuprofen and paracetamol for a couple of days and then just the Ibuprofen for the rest of the week. I'd been avoiding NSAIDs to that point, due to it being a super bad idea to take those while doing heavy exercise. After 2 days, however, the pain was hugely reduced to the point where I was OK walking a bit without crutches, but my leg/ankle still got creaky and sore after a while. So, I've been really doing nothing now for a few more days (it's 5 days now since I stopped) and there's a little swelling still and some restriction in flexing my ankle in either direction (I've been doing exercises to make sure it doesn't get stiff), but I've been tentatively looking at when I can get back and finish the route. Sure, I could have taken Ibuprofen for the remaining 15.5 days and carried on in the hope that it worked well enough and didn't cause my kidneys to give up, but I wasn't willing to do that to myself. I'm stubborn, but not totally stupid.

Thanks to @benunsworth for making this brilliant map!
I've done 630 miles. There's 405 left to do. I need to avoid (Scottish) school holidays and key work events and negotiate *another* 2 weeks unpaid time off, but it looks like later in October might work and I should be well recovered by then.

Looking back, it's slightly surreal to think of how far up the UK I got - well into Scotland, not far short of Edinburgh. I saw some beautiful and very varied scenery, pretty villages, brilliant cafes, pubs and B&Bs. I problem solved my way through many obstacles: ankle to shoulder height nettles, gorse, thistles, holly and hawthorn; electric fences; barbed wire; herds of cows; very anti-social land owners (hey, yeah, I'll just stick a head-height bank of soil and a ditch across the entire width of the field and an electric fence, a hawthorn hedge and some barbed wire!); broken stiles and bridges; broken/locked/wired shut gates; missing bridges; unrelenting sun for 2x days with no shade; cold; wet feet for 12+ hours; 45-50mph winds while up on the highest point of the moors... etc. I've met some really lovely people and been shown great kindness many times. I've spent days where the only talking I've done is saying hello to cows and rabbits. I've gotten a *lot* of vitamin D! And I've raised over £3,500 for Public Health Collaboration (so far)! My muscles and engine were fine throughout. I slept really well. I used every single piece of kit I'd packed except the two things I'd really only need in the more remote bits of Scotland - a fabric bucket for collecting water, and a water bottle with a filter in it.

It's been an amazing experience; sure, there were tough bits and I got frustrated and upset a good few times mainly due to people being unthinking/inconsiderate (e.g. car drivers who have no idea of the highway code and how to deal with pedestrians). But it took a biomechanical breakdown to put it on pause for now.

I've got pretty bad blues - I wanted to do it in one, and I'm really missing being out in the countryside whatever the weather. Need some time and care before anything hard - physical or mental.

Monday, 8 May 2017

LEJoG 2017: 2 weeks to go, final tests & checks

2 weeks to go and this is the last weekend that any training will make a difference to fitness levels on the day that I start this thing.  Having had 5 days with no training due to a combination of a cold that hit me hard and fast and transatlantic travel for work, I'm a bit nervous of my overall training consistency and trying hard to put my trust in what coach James has to say about it all rather than looking at my Training Peaks historical log and freaking out.  45 miles of back to back run (including a sneaky parkrun) done and it wasn't too bad!  Slightly niggly knee, but that's how things go in the last few days into a big event - all the psychological demons crawl out in "fake symptoms" to freak you out. They're almost always not real.

This weekend I also needed to do final kit tests and checks to make sure everything I already tested still works and any replacements are good.  With 25 miles on Saturday, an overnight camp at Saddlescombe Farm, and 15 miles on Sunday, most problems should shake out with kit.

Since I last did a big back to back weekend with a camp in the middle, I've replaced all of this:-
  • Waterproof top: new Montane Minimus - better waterproofing for the same weight as the old jacket. (CHECK! Works nicely under my pack and is super light.)
  • Shorts: new Icebreaker Comet Skort - slightly lighter and way cuter for the same coverage/comfort. (CHECK! Comfy, doesn't move around too much, looks great!)
  • T-shirt: new Icebreaker Comet Cap Sleeve - slightly lighter and less shoulder coverage. (CHECK! Comfy, doesn't move around too much, looks good, allows better air-flow!)
  • 3/4 tights: new Icebreaker Impulse - less see-through and comfier for the same weight. (CHECK! Comfy, kept me warm overnight!)
  • Water purification: new Travel Tap - built into bottle, no batteries needed, less stuff to carry (slightly lighter in combination).
  • Sleeping mat: Thermarest Neo Air X-Lite (Womens) - longer, more insulating, more comfortable (but heavier). (CHECK! Comfy, kept me very warm overnight, moves about a bit but I'll figure that out.)
I've also now booked somewhere to sleep the couple of nights before I start.  MrTOTKat and I will head South West on Friday and stay around Penzance so we can parkrun together on Saturday - I would really love to see lots of parkrun friends at Penrose on Saturday before I go!

Friday, 21 April 2017

LEJoG 2017 - the final month preparation...

 Donate to Public Health Collaboration UK

One month to go!

Route plotting is done.  Kit is mostly locked in, with a couple of changes to test before completely finalising.  Training mostly done - in so far as you can train for this sort of thing.  And now it's a great time to talk about the charity I'm intending to raise awareness of and funds for...

Public Health Collaboration (PHC) is a a charity dedicated to focusing on improving public health in the UK, through research, providing resources and information about issues relating to lifestyle and health in this age of avoidable and reversible obesity, diabetes, dementia and other metabolic syndrome related problems that increasing number of people are suffering from.  The advisory board is made up of consultant cardiologists (Dr Aseem Malhotra), psychologists, (including Dr Tamsin Lewis @sportiedoc) GPs and a Professor of Obesity research (Prof. John (Iain) Broom).

I was pretty overweight myself in the past (only *just* technically obese by the BMI ratio measure), and when the shock(s) came and I started to take control, I eventually came across lots of information relating not just to weight loss and healthy weight maintenance but also the impact of diet on other factors than weight, including brain and heart health.  Thanks to an initial curiosity and refusal to believe that counting calories for the rest of my life was the only answer to maintaining a healthy weight, I crossed paths with Dr Tamsin Lewis, who set me down the path of learning and research into what goes on with what you eat and how it affects your body in the short and the long term. And taking control of these things for myself (11 years on after losing 30kg, I'm still a healthy weight and started sport 6 years ago, finally really able to enjoy it!). Yes, there are ranges of behaviour and response, but there are limits and at some point things start to break in the short and, more horribly, the long term becomes a lot less long even when once of your symptoms is not becoming overweight.

So... take a look at what PHC are about and then head on over to my fund-raising page on TotalGiving (all donations go directly to the charity) and consider giving a little to help turn the tide of poor health in the UK for now and for the future!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

LEJoG 2017 - 7 weeks to go. This just got real!

7 weeks to go...

Last weekend I went for a back-to-back 20 miles Saturday and Sunday, with a camping kit test overnight in between.  This is the first time I've slept out with all of my gear and the first time I've really gone any appreciable distance with full pack.  And it went really pretty well.

Yes, I got pretty cold overnight.  But, hey, it's March!  Even in Scotland in June it won't drop that low overnight.  All my kit was good, except for the sleeping mat, which moved about underneath me and just wasn't that great. I kept finding it half-way down my back and off to one side.  So, I've gone for a slightly heavier, full length one instead. Which should arrive this week.

I also came across a number of obstacles...

I can't even...

And trials...

Gave up after 6 miles of this and lots of folks not being sympathetic to a pedestrian observing the highway code
I've been ticking through plotting the route, heavily inspired by Linda Brackenbury's book.  Her route really took my fancy as it's one of the shortest I've seen and it avoids roads a huge amount.  Her trip was over 70 days and mostly ended each 15ish mile day in a hostel or B&B, which all lines up to being perfect for me to use and modify where necessary.  I've combined many of the early days in pairs, but left some of the later, more lengthy days of her route in place so there are some 20ish mile ones when I hit Scotland and it gets a bit hillier.  So I'm looking at 37 days as a minimum and 42 as a maximum right now.

Actually not Scotland, but a tiny bump in Central Park, New York
I've also been run-commuting with my pack fully loaded.  Doing between 5 and 7 miles each day so as not to overload myself unnecessarily.  And this carries through when I'm traveling for work, so there's a bit of a temperature variation as well as scenery (and more than a little trouble with GPS where I am this week).

I'm nervous.  I'm not quite finished plotting the route yet and problems with the Ordnance Survey web site every now and then, usually when I've actually got time to dedicate to route plotting, really isn't helping.  And then there's the map buying to ensure I actually have OS maps when I'm not in mobile data coverage... ($$$!)

Not long now!

Monday, 27 March 2017

2017 Curry Recipes: 1 - Butter Cauliflower and Chickpeas

I've finally got 10 mins to write down the first of my current trio of great curry recipes, so here it is!


Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main.

  • 1 large cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 1 tin of chickpeas (drained)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced finely
  • 100-150g salted butter (for a vegan version, use 100g coconut oil)
  • 1 small can coconut cream (160-200ml)
  • 2 tbsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 150-200ml double cream (for a vegan version, double the amount of coconut cream and omit this)
  • 1x red chilli, sliced finely.
  • 1 pinch smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp toasted, desiccated coconut
  • salt to taste
  • toasted flaked almonds and coconut chips or shavings to serve
  1. Toast the desiccated coconut and set aside.
  2. Toast the almond flakes and coconut chips/shavings and set aside.
  3. Sweat the sliced onion in a pan with half of the butter until the onion is translucent and sticky.
  4. Add the cauliflower chunks and the rest of the butter, tossing the cauliflower until it is coated with the hot butter.
  5. Sprinkle the turmeric and paprika into the pan and toss the cauliflower until it is fully coated. add more butter if the cauliflower doesn't get fully coated with the golden liquid and you can see white patches still.
  6. Cook the cauliflower for a little while until it starts to soften.
  7. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two, then add the coconut cream.
  8. Cook the mixture and as it thickens, add the double cream, desiccated coconut and ground almond.
  9. Cook until the cauliflower softens nicely, add a little water if the sauce gets too thick - it should end up thick enough to stick to a spoon and not drip off.
  10. For the final couple of minutes of cooking, add the sliced chilli, then drained chick peas, then Garam Masala (don't cook that too long or it will taste bitter).
  11. Season with salt to taste (don't add it too early or the chick peas will harden and be crunchy).
  12. When ready to serve, spoon onto serving dish and garnish with the toasted almond flakes and coconut chips/shavings.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

LEJoG 2017 - FAQs Part 1

It's definitely time to put out some FAQs here as I've had more than a few questions so far:

1 - Who/What charity are you running for?

I'd normally get pretty pissy with this question in relation to races and/or touring runs. I  run because I enjoy it.  I may not be an elite athlete and I'm never going to win a race, be fastest at anything etc. but I really do enjoy it.  I also find it uncomfortable and distasteful to beg for money from friends, family and strangers, especially for enjoying myself and doing something I'm pretty sure I'll achieve.

However.  This is different.  1000 miles is an 'ing long way, especially considering I'm carrying all my own stuff.  So it's actually a challenge that I'm not certain I'll complete.  I also finally have found a cause I really do care about (and they just got charitable status, but not yet set up on a mass fund-raising site yet, so watch this space).  This time, yes, I will be raising money and awareness for


2 - You're running a long way, in the middle of nowhere a lot; what about food?


So.  I almost always run before eating; my stomach is just happier that way.  I'm OK eating *while* running but generally in the morning it works out better if I start out before breaking fast.  I'm intending to eat one meal per day, usually.  It worked really well on my 6 day running tours and I often eat 2 or fewer meals per day anyway these days.  I'll carry some emergency food for when I end up camping wild and away from anywhere I can buy food for the day.

On a related note; water. I'll be carrying 1.5L. That's heavy.  Water is all over the place, in shops, pubs, cafes, etc. as well as springs (there's a ton of them all over the place) and I have capability to purify 80L over the time I'm away.

3 - Have you practised putting up your tent in a howling gale and downpour?


Three points on this one.  A. I'm not intending to camp every night - I'm carrying a tent for the times I want to stop for the day and there is no hut/bothy/yurt/barn/B&B/hostel or cheap hotel.  B. There are extremely few exposed parts of the route I have mapped (plus, I'd have to be really unlucky to get that sort of appalling weather in June).  And C. my tent is *extremely* easy to put up.  In a light breeze, it takes just over a minute.  (and a couple of minutes to put away)

4 - Have you checked your stove is safe to use inside your tent?

It isn't.

Again, two points. A. see above about weather/exposure. and B. Heck no! It is *never* safe to use a gas camping stove in an enclosed/unventilated space.  If I'm camping and the weather is appalling and there's nowhere nearby to get a warm meal/drink, I just won't have one. It won't kill me.

5 - Can I come and run with you?

Mostly no.  For safety reasons, my location will be known to very few people, and by a satellite tracker.  I may make an exception for the last day of my run, which is planned to be only 8 miles up to Duncansby Head, but *when* I'll get there is pretty much down to how things go in the 36-41 days before that.

I'll have a PLB a bit like this one. But not this one. A different one.

6 - Safety?

This is the big one.  I'll never be more than 15 miles from civilisation in some form.  I've got a satellite tracker/personal locator beacon that will last for 45 days of active tracking at a 10 minute interval before I need to replace the battery (and I'll have spares).

Being in the UK, there's pretty much nothing venomous enough to really do damage, and no large predators that would want to eat me.  I'm reasonably experienced with bull, cow, sheep and horse wrangling where I need to get by and they're in the way.

7 - Aren't you going to get really tired?


And... I'll get hot, cold, scratched, sore shoulders, sore feet, back ache, cut, stung, grazed, blisters, sun burn, wind burn and chafing.  I'll probably have nights with very little sleep.  I'll also trip and/or fall over, especially when I'm tired.  And I'll make poor decisions through inexperience and/or tiredness.   I've also got a route that avoids any of the particularly difficult parts of the UK; the Pennines, most of the Lake District, the Cairngorms.  Anywhere really high that can get difficult in "weather" is off the route.

This isn't a walk in the park.  It isn't easy.  It's a very long way.  I'm not deliberately setting out to sit on a spike here, but without increasing the time for the trip (which would cost me a lot of lost earnings at work) and spending a *lot* of money and/or carrying a *lot* more kit, it's not going to be a luxury trip.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Race Report: Moyleman 2017

Trail marathons are never 26.2 miles long.  If you want exactly 26.2 miles, run a road marathon.  The same applies to any standard distance race name applied to off-road running.  And I'm OK with that. More than OK in fact, but it often results in weird conversations with non/road runners afterwards.

 Other Person -  "Oh you ran a marathon? What time did you get?"
 Me - "Um, 5 and a half hours."
 Other Person - *disappointed noise*

Most people know "The Marathon" as the race that's run in the spring in London and are unaware that there are other races of that distance that are called marathons too.  A subset of those people think that marathons are 26.2 miles run on road and/or don't realise that they're not always flat, and so any time under 4 hours (or whatever their weird uncle ran 15 years ago) is usually greeted by "oh that's alright then" but anything over 4 hours is usually considered pedestrian.  Fewer still understand that there are such things as marathons that are run off-road, and sometimes even up and down hills, moors, bogs, mountains even.  And once you go away from flat and off the road, all bets are off with times.  But, these are generally not people whose opinion I value when it comes to running.

The Moyleman is an off road marathon run in the South Downs.  It's a bit hilly, occasionally muddy and is actually approximately 26.2 miles.  I attempted it last year, but ran into trouble on the day and pulled out at half way.  It was the first of two races that helped me to understand that my stomach prefers to start a morning run empty (turns out I can eat fine while I'm running or afterwards, but sometimes when I eat before a morning run my stomach isn't happy about it and gets painful).

I went in with an aim to get around with no heroics; approx 50 mile pace. Conditions much better this year for this race. No slippery chalk and very little mud. A touch warm for the first half though. Took a long time to warm up properly, felt really lumbering despite only 1kg pack. Trashed my quads quite early on with really bad descending - seems I've forgotten how to do that. Got pretty pissed off with water station 2 (mile 10) having no water; I'd not re-stocked at mile 5 because I'd not had much of my bottle, and had about 1/4 bottle left at that point. No water for me!

Got pretty bored with the scenery and had a bit of a chat with myself at half way where the only way to DNF was to walk into town and wait for a bus - might as well get on with it!

Half way/relay handover point was a shambles; couldn't even find the water tables due to relay runners crowding around them. Eventually figured it out, filled up and carried on. Over the last half I overtook about 20 people, which was psychologically boosting. Squeaked my way down the last couple of hills - quads pretty sore and "sprinted" the last 150m or so. 5.5ish hours, pretty happy with that given the "no heroics" goal. Quads are pretty ruined though! 3,200ft of ascent and even more descent overall.